The craggy mountains and the expansive ocean vista draw most people to Big Sur, but they aren’t the only draw. Natural hot springs abound in Big Sur, ideal for relaxing and soothing tired muscles. Soak in a natural pool with views of the Pacific Ocean, relax in a Japanese-style hot springs bathhouse at one of the neighboring Zen monasteries, or climb to a distant outdoor mountain spring. These attractions combine to provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will impress your friends and family.
1. Sykes Hot Springs
The only natural backcountry hot spring in Big Sur is Sykes Hot Springs. Sadly, the 18.9-mile Pine Ridge Trail that leads to it was damaged by the 2017 Soberanes Fire but was reopened in April 2021. The Pine Ridge Trail is a challenging climb that terminates at the springs and is an approved camping place with a maximum elevation increase of roughly 1,000 feet. The hike takes approximately four hours one way. The Ventana Wilderness Alliance has the most up-to-date trail information.
Sykes has two ancient stone-lined natural pools. If you get to the springs, you might be able to find a way to soak up the 102-degree F on your own. However, the area may get fairly congested on weekends, with 200 campers staying there.
2. Tassajara Zen Mountain Center Hot Springs
The Tassajara Zen Center is a Japanese-style Zen monastery located just inland from Big Sur in the Ventana Wilderness. It is the West Coast’s first Soto Zen training monastery, with daily meditation, retreats, lessons, lectures, and workshops. The 16-mile route to the monastery is closed during the winter, and only inhabitants remain. The facilities are open to guests during “guest season,” which runs from May to mid-September. You can visit the monastery for a day excursion to enjoy their hot springs baths, meditate in their offered quiet area, hike their gorgeous paths, and eat a gourmet vegetarian meal in the dining room overlooking the creek. Bring your towel and lunch if you don’t want to go to the beach.
3. Esalen Institute Hot Springs
The Esalen Institute is a retreat center for artists, authors, dancers, theologians, sociologists, and anybody who wants to escape from their busy lives and reconnect with nature. The property perched on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean features spring-fed hot tubs, individual villas and apartments, a working farm, a restaurant, and an art barn, among other amenities. You must take a program and stay on the property to utilize their on-site hot springs.
The Esalen springs are split into two levels, featuring an outdoor massage deck and a succulent garden. The minerals discovered in the springs are supposed to cure various diseases, drawing both tourists and locals.
The Esalen Institute hot springs are now exclusively accessible to people staying on-site. Please contact the retreat center to see whether they will be open to the public again.
Tips for Visiting
- Stay on top and not hydrate too long in hot water. Soaking for an extended period can drop your blood pressure and cause you to feel lightheaded.
- Consult your doctor before going to a hot spring if you have a medical condition that could worsen by soaking in hot water.
- Do not consume the water. Hot spring water is high in naturally occurring minerals such as sulfur, calcium, magnesium, silica, lithium, and even radium. While soaking in the minerals is relaxing, ingesting them can make you unwell.
- Always bring extra water with you. After soaking, calm water will help you rehydrate and regulate your body temperature.
- For drying off, bring a towel (or a camping chamois). You’ll like it if the atmosphere is chilly and overcast.